Early discussion about older person's decline in driving skills may avert clash

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Talking about the decline of driving skills long before problems are evident may help minimize conflict, experts say. Asking "Have you thought about what you'd do if you could no longer drive?" is one way to start a discussion.

The Hartford insurance company offers a brochure, "We Need to Talk," which includes an advance directive similar to a living will in the event that a person can no longer drive safely and tips about how to have such conversations. To see the brochure, go to http://www.thehartford.com/talkwitholderdrivers/brochure/brochure.htm.

One way to deflect a confrontation may be to focus on powerful medications a person is taking, or a medical problem that's less stigmatizing than dementia, such as poorly controlled diabetes.

In other cases, emphasizing the possible legal and financial consequences that could result from an accident might be persuasive. Maryland driving instructor Carol Wheatley recalls one woman whose reluctant husband agreed to stop driving after she told him, "Honey, I don't want to lose our house."

Families should be prepared to take action by calling a physician or filing a report with motor vehicle officials if a driver denies having a problem. Sometimes it is necessary to confiscate the keys or to disable, remove or even sell a car. If you're unsure about intervening, consider whether you'd let your children ride with the driver.

-- Sandra G. Boodman

Driving behaviors that may prompt intervention

-- Difficulty merging into traffic or staying in lane.

-- Abrupt lane changes.

-- Increased aggressiveness or irritation while driving.

-- Speeding or going too slow for road conditions.

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